Political satire takes an equal amount of balls and tact. Too often does a satire movie end up too preachy, too safe or too overdone that it crosses that thin line. It takes a master to craft a film that delivers a good punch without being too painful. Enter "The Dictator", a witty, funny, biting political and social satire that can easily be the most hilarious film this year.
Larry Charles and Sacha Baron Cohen team up once again to bring us black comedy at its finest. If the snide opening dedication to the late Kim Jong Il does not get you at least grinning or chuckling then you know you're in the wrong theatre. You are not here to watch some tame little romantic comedy. You are here to behold the rise and fall and rise again and fall again of Admiral General Aladeen; the perverted, anti- westerner, immature and slightly off his rocker ruler of the North African republic of Wadiya. His lecherous decadent life is shattered on a fateful trip to address the UN over talks of stopping Wadiya's development of nuclear weapons. Betrayed by his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley effectively reprising his role of treacherous right hand man from Pince of Persia), replaced by a mentally challenged decoy, and shaved of his trademark beard by a hit-man, Aladeen embarks on a clandestine scheme to get back into power by joining forces with a Wadiyan refugee (whom he supposedly executed) and a tomboyish political activist named Zoey.
Strip the story down to its bones and it is "Prince and the Pauper" or "Emperor's New Groove". Heck, it's "Lion King" complete with treacherous uncle and African monarch. A sheltered leader falls from power and soon learns the simple joys of a simple life. Not very original there. Yet it is in the pitch perfect execution of this tried and tested plot that The Dictator stands out. Sacha Baron Cohen IS Admiral General Aladeen. He plays the role with such earnest vigour that, like his previous film portrayal of fictional Kazakstanian Borat, you would be hard pressed not to believe Aladeen exists in the real world as a real person. Ironic in that his overblown antics are anything but real. He is a caricature, much like The supporting cast consisting of caricatures of typically oppressed demographics of a population; the minorities, the disabled, those who are different etc. All put on performances beyond excellence but one cannot help but pity how Ben Kingsley has been so under utilized as an actor of late.
The Star attraction is of course, the satire aspect. Other satires may bare their political teeth, but The Dictator sinks its whole jaw into themes of racial oppression, the contradictory nature of democracy, the recent world economic situation, the rise of China and it's own brand of "democracy" etc. It is intentionally crafted to tick off the right people and entertain everyone else. Crude without being overly offensive, . Even the more "icky" stuff are played strictly for laughs. You'd get it if you had a sense of humor. The hard hitting jabs at politics and social issues are interspersed with looney toons style slapstick and a tender emotional subplot that actually feels right in place.
One downside is that this film does require the viewer to have a bit of knowledge of current world socio-political issues. Failing which, a good number of the jokes and jabs would just fly over the heads of the ignorant such as a rousing climatic speech by Aladeen extolling the virtues of dictatorship. (It is not as straight forward as you think. Those that get it will get it good).
Without the aforementioned prerequisite, The Dictator would come across as just another "Prince and the Pauper" comedy clone.But for those in the know, for those willing to think through all the little mocking points raised by the narrative, it is the softer spiritual cousin to "Team America", the vulgar dysfunctional third nephew to "Fahrenheit 911" and the crude great grandson of Charlie Chaplin's 1940's classic "The Great Dictator". IF anything, The Dictator serves to establish Sacha Baron Cohen as possibly the finest comedy actor of our decade. May his reign be long, hard and full of.................well, you get the point.